Ignorant and patchy rumination on ancestry

untitledI’ve been thinking on this, and I admittedly know very little, but I shall appreciate feedback from those who might know more/have thought on it too. Warning! This is a rant. Neanderthals are in the news again. I once heard from science that the Neanderthals were stupid, inferior humans. (Exactly how ‘inferiority’ is determined, is certainly debatable) Either way, calling someone a ‘Neanderthal’ was thus an insult. In more recent times though (Paabo/Green et al, 2010?), it’s been discovered that every group apart from ‘pure Africans’ have Neanderthal DNA in them. Alongside this discovery seems to have come more and more new scientific discovery that Neanderthals were actually smart, adventurous, curious and cultured too—some say probably even more so than pure Homo Sapiens.

“This gene is associated with risk-taking, sensation-seeking and novelty-seeking, and correlated with openness to new experiences, intolerance to monotony, and exploratory behavior — you know… Neanderthal stuff. […]This miraculous combination created a new kind of “super” human hybrid tribe: part Neanderthal, part modern human — and they DOMINATED.”-Lo Porta, Huffington Post 2010

“Prof Riel Salvatore, who co-authored the research, added: “It’s been long believed that Neanderthals were outcompeted by fitter modern humans and they could not adapt. “We are changing the main narrative. Neanderthals were just as adaptable and in many ways, simply victims of their own success.””-Telegraph, 2011

“The view of Neanderthals as club-wielding brutes is one of the most enduring stereotypes in science, but researchers who trawled the archaeological evidence say the image has no basis whatsoever. […]”The evidence for cognitive inferiority is simply not there,” said Villa. “What we are saying is that the conventional view of Neanderthals is not true.”-The Guardian, 2014

Some, moreso those who believe that African folks are innately more aggressive, less intelligent, and not as open minded (a view that seemed pretty popular/was upvoted in the comment sections I browsed on various sites) are now suggesting that that explains why ‘Africans are so much stupider than everyone else’ (because we(Africans) simply don’t have the intelligence-giving-Neanderthal-genes). When confronted with smart, non-aggressive, and ‘cultured’ black folks though, some posit that that means we must have had some Eurasian ancestry (due to ‘mixing during and after colonialism’) to give us some of the ‘intelligent and cultured’ traits. Thing is, I have no problem believing/agreeing with the flip in thought which now says that Neanderthals were awesome(Not better, or worse, than homo sapien sapien, just awesome–a view most articles leaned to). I’m inclined to think it’s true, and that we’ve had some pretty biased and messed up ways of ascribing what’s ‘superior’ or not, closely related or not… ascribing value to things in a ranked way which just is kinda sad and superficial (or pathetic even).

However, part of me feels like it follows a historic script of maintaining the status quo or even a desire to prevent cognitive dissonance. For example, our ideas previously were: ‘big brains (relative size ignored intentionally) mean higher intelligence’ ‘men have bigger brains and thus are smarter than women’. However, when it was found definitively that ‘women have bigger brains relative to body mass’, the script changed to brain size (relative or not) does not determine intelligence’ or, according to Broca, the metric didn’t work the same for everyone -> ‘therefore men are still smarter than women’ (Stepan, 1986). Turns out, our brain size actually seems to be shrinking too, so the ‘buts’ on that idea keep growing.

Anywho, certainly though there is a lot of validity to the attempt at discovery and to what we discover, and untangling it all is a noble endeavor, but I can’t shake the feeling that so much of what we ‘find’ is swayed by the implicit and unconscious biases in contemporary thinking (whether liberal, conservative, flaggaboo, whatever). For a long time so much of what was ‘great’ about ‘African-Trinis’ (at least in what I’ve frequently enough observed to be the case) has been credited to every other supposed and actual part of our identity beyond the majority thing: ‘Africanness’… whether it’s ‘Our Beauty: Good hair because yuh have Indian in yuh or what?’ or ‘Our Intelligence: Smarts because yuh have Indian in yuh or what?’ So, after hearing statements such as these, I don’t at all fault folks who choose to take a stand for their innate African awesomeness by solely owning and acknowledging the term ‘black’ or ‘African’… even when they are mixed. Ah, we’re a complex family of humans, different and the same… and certainly African descended folks dish the dirt to others with different ancestry/are racist (and certainly racist to themselves too), but, perhaps the only time we’ll get a truthful picture of what actually ‘is’, is when we accept that difference, whatever it may be, does not always necessitate ranking, and that perhaps, we’re likely much more biased and kinda wrong than we imagine ourselves to be.

Image Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8660940.stm

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